The Gaillardia pulchella, commonly known as Indian blanket, firewheel, sunburst, bandana daisy, and blanket flower, signals that summer is upon us. Its scientific name Gaillardia commemorates Gaillard de Charentonnue a 1700s French lawmaker that funded botanical research and exploration. And the species name pulchella is Latin for beautiful or handsome. The Indian blanket is claimed by both to the daisy, Compositae, and the sunflower, Asteraceae, families, which is no surprise since daisies are also part of the sunflower family. It seems that when botanists can't decide where to categorize a plant they place it in numerous classifications.
The perennial Indian blanket is an impressive and beautiful flower that grows along roadsides and in fields and pastures. It isn't uncommon to see forty or more acres blanketed with colorful flowers in almost a pure stand. They must have a sunny location and thrive in ordinary soil, but prefer well drained conditions so they can pass through the safety of winter and bloom yearly as they reseed readily.
The annual varieties should be raised from seeds sown in a warm greenhouse in March with the seedlings being planted outdoors in May, or by sowing them directly outdoors in early spring. Annuals are also excellent for flowering in a cool greenhouse in late winter and spring. For this purpose seeds should be sown in September or October in pots or trays of porous soil. When the seedlings are large enough to be handled individually, transfer to larger containers as their growth will make the moves more desirable. Pots of 6 to 8 inches in diameter are large enough for the final potting. Throughout their growth, exposure to full sun is needed.
In most species of the Indian blanket the flower heads are 1.5 to 2 inches across, one on each main stem, which may be from 4 to 8 inches long. Each flower has 10 to 20 rays, sometimes all red, but usually marked with yellow on the tips forming a yellow band along the outside. The disc flowers are brownish-red with a yellow center. The plant has a wide, branched base. The upper leaves are smooth and alternate about 2 to 2.5 inches long, and the lower leaves have a few teeth (margins sharply indented). The plant grows 1 to 2 feet tall.
The name "Indian blanket" derives from numerous Mexican, and Native American legends. My favorite is about an Indian blanket weaver. The old man realized he had only a little time left to live, so he weaved his own burial blanket, which he intended as a gift to the Great Spirit when they met. Determined to create the most exquisite blanket he had ever made, he wove into it an elaborate design using reds, yellows , and browns––the colors of the sunset. When he died, upon his instructions, his family wrapped him in the blanket. The Great Spirit, pleased with such a magnificent gift but sorry that the tribe could not enjoy its beauty, decided to share the gift with them. The next spring, wildflowers of the design and colors of the old man's blanket covered his grave to bloom and spread across the land forever.
Despite its French name, Gaillardia, the plant is native to North America and was introduced into Europe from Louisiana in the early colonial days.
The Indian blanket was designated as the official state wildflower of Oklahoma to honor the state's Indian heritage in 1986.
The Kiowa Indians considered it good luck.
Medically it was, and still is, used to treat stomach ailments and skin disorders.
In the language of flowers Gaillardia symbolizes bravery.